Lost: Homemade Sauerkraut

The book Nourishing Traditions, which ennumerates the Weston A Price research and school of thought on traditional foods, many of them fermented or cultured, opened my eyes to new/old wisdom, and lots of new weird recipes!

One of these weird foods is sauerkraut.

Who could have guessed that something so smelly could be so good for you?  Before I became a weird person who sometimes ate weird smelly things, my memory of sauerkraut was related solely to almost throwing up at Valleyfair. I was in the old school ‘Pint Sized’ part of the park, since replaced by Berenstein Bears Land,…and is probably something else, now, as I haven’t been there in eons. Well, not literally eons. I’m not THAT old and weird. More weird than old. Anywho….

I was on a spinning ride (and, to further digress, why I can’t I go on any spinning rides anymore without thinking I might die? Maybe I’m older than I thought…) – and each time I spun around a certain point, I’d smell it – vile, vile sauerkraut. An old guy was eating it plain, with a spoon, resting against the gate near the turn-stile entrance to the ride. He was grizzled, gruff, and a large guy. Sauerkraut seemed to fit him, somehow, to my young mind.

The smell was locked in my mind, and I vowed never, never, never.

Well, now its the year 2012, and as Justin Bieber so keenly reminds us, “Never Say Never.” I think. I don’t know if I could recognize one of his songs, but he seems like a good kid, and I often am reminded that I could watch his movie instantly on Netflix. When I run out of foodie choices, I will consider it.

My 180 on Sauerkraut, or, Why is sauerkraut so-o-o goo-oo-ood?

From an article by Linda Forrestal in her article “Sauerkraut: the Miracle Cabbage”,

       Many sources say raw fermented foods are beneficial to the digestive system by increasing the healthy flora in the intestinal tract or creating the type of environment for them to flourish. Sauerkraut and its juice are traditional folk remedies for constipation. Fermentation actually increases nutrient values in the cabbage, especially vitamin C. Fermented foods are also said to facilitate the breakdown and assimilation of proteins. They have a soothing effect on the nervous system.

         Before the days of refrigeration, sauerkraut served as the only source of vitamin C during the winter in northern climates. It was used on long ship voyages to prevent scurvy. (Read the rest of the article, which includes diverse cultural varieties of fermented cabbage)

But, now I can also say, I don’t mind the taste and smell. Canned sauerkraut IS different than the stuff I make. Mine is crunchier, and tangier. Its not disgusting mush bereft of nutrients. Raw sauerkraut is alive with all kind of beneficial bugs, similar to the kind you’d find in yogurt or kefir or brined raw pickles. I use an anaerobic way of making it, right in a mason jar. The recipe I use comes from my FAVORITE COOKBOOK: Simply In Season. 

What you need:

– a beautiful local cabbage, green or red, like I picked up from the farm of Ladybug Acres, sold at the Veggie Barn on S. Univ (by Kmart) late last summer, Thank you, Amanda!

– some sea salt, or pickling salt, or regular salt

– a jar – I use quart jars, because its a good size for 1 – 2 meals for my family size

– a cool, dark place. My root cellar is ideal. Thank goodness for *this* old house.

How to make it:

– Chop up the cabbage finely. Honestly, mine usually ends up a bit chunky, because I’m usually multi-tasking.

Resist using a food processor, even though this would make it easier. But, it does something bad – like releasing too many enzymes or something, can’t remember. Look it up, and let me know what you find.

– Or, chop it with one of these — Lehman’s Triple Bladed Cabbage Cutter. (Watch your fingers)  On my wishlist. Donations accepted.

– Put a bit in the jar, and mash it with a utensil that fits in your jar. Mash, mash, mash away. You want to really, really bruise the leaves. Crack ’em. Just go to town.

– Sprinkle some salt, maybe a tsp per layer (I don’t know, I never measure! scandal!) over the bruised cabbage, and repeat until jar is full with 1 inch to spare. *You technically should let the cabbage sit, and let the salt draw out moisture from the cabbage. I am generally too impatient, and just smash it, salt it, and water it. My bad. It still turns out awesome.*

– Put in cool water, all the way to the top. Cover with sterilized lid, and screw band, and put in a cool dark place. A dark corner of a closet, root cellar, dark corner of the garage as long as it stays around 55 degrees so it won’t freeze, unheated dark corner of your front entry? All these are possibilities. You don’t have to be jealous of my 90 year old house, really.

Ready for the root cellar!

Place something under it — a single-use plastic container is nice, so it won’t be single-use any longer — because over the course of the next week, you might wonder, “What have I DONE?” because it will leak, ooze, and might even bubble a bit. That’s normal. It means all the yummy goodness is being prepared for you. It is ready in about 2 weeks, but the longer it sits, the better the flavor gets.

Variations:

Layer in onions, carrots, or jalapenos! Use alternating red and green cabbage. It will start out striped, then turn pink.

* Now, because air isn’t interacting with it, mold shouldn’t be an issue. But use your head – if its moldy, really fuzzy, or smells off, don’t take a chance. Just because I’ve personally never had a problem with this method doesn’t mean you should trust me explicitly.*

This is not the ‘usual’ way to make raw sauerkraut.  Another method is here. I have not tried it, but have tried to brine pickles using this traditional method, and I have not gotten the hang of it. My first batch of brined pickles was awesome – my second one was really slimy and rotten. If anyone has made sauerkraut with the barrel method, I’d love to hear about it.

Here’s a fun recipe:

Sauerkraut Soup

Open your jar of sauerkraut. Boil a few cut up potatoes in your homemade chicken broth (just enough broth to cover) until slightly soft. Mash half, leave some chunky. Add the jar of sauerkraut, juice and all. Spoon in cultured sour cream (I like the Cascade brand from the natural foods section at the Fargo Cashwise.). Eat with crusty bread to dip. Don’t heat it to0 hot – you don’t want to kill all the beneficial bugs in the ‘kraut.

What stinky food do YOU like? Is it as good for your as my stinky sauerkraut?

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8 thoughts on “Lost: Homemade Sauerkraut

  1. Sue B says:

    I finally grew up too and now I L O V E sauerkraut.

  2. Dayna says:

    A word of warning with putting a lid and screw band on it, do NOT tighten the ring because your jars could explode with the gases that the fermenting releases. SIL had that happen to her once. That was a stinky mess.
    I put my jars in a square cake pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap and then a flour sack towel and then into my electric oven that is turned off. If you have a gas oven, you will need to find a nice, cool space since the pilot light will warm the oven too much.
    And, following the recipe from MIL that came over from Germany with her great-grandmother, it’s about 3 tablespoons of salt to every 5 pounds of cabbage.
    And don’t forget to check it every few days for “gunk” on the top.

    MIL makes kraut every year. This year was my first and we did 5 gallons from 8 heads in a beer brewing bucket with an air lock. Yep, good Germans. But I also did 2 heads in quart jars and didn’t lose a single shred. 🙂

    • Laura says:

      Oh yes, Dayna, good point – I have not experienced the explosion yet, and hope not to! Scary! Thank you for pointing that out. I’m going to adjust my post to reflect your SIL cautionary tale.
      Neat tip about the electric oven, I’ll have to give that a whirl with my next batch.
      I like the idea of using the beer brewing bucket, too – my big problem was not checking on it often enough, perhaps, and too much interaction with air on the surface? I will have to research some more –

  3. for sauerkraut I like to throw in a tsp of coriander seeds with the sea salt. We eat ours cold, as a condiment, so as not to kill the beneficial bacteria. Its delicious on a hamburger.
    Fermenting is so fun! Right now I have Kombucha, Ginger beer, Sourdough starter, Viili yogurt and lacto-fermented lemonade fermenting away in various parts of the house. (15 feet apart so they don’t cross-ferment)

    • Laura says:

      Oh my, yes – isn’t fermenting fun??!! I just started a batch of yogurt tonight, and we finished our last jar of sauerkraut, so I will be starting up a new batch of that this week (and I’m going to have to try the coriander seeds – thanks for the idea sharing!). I would love to know more about all the other things you’re fermenting currently – especially ginger beer! I wanted to make that at the start of my last pregnancy, but just didn’t have the energy to think about it. Where do you keep your food project – just curious – basement, main floor?

      • I try to keep them somewhere warm and toasty while they’re fermenting. I use the top of the fridge, the top of the dryer, the top of the water heater, top of the TV, anything that generates heat. Beneficial bacteria like to be warm and cozy. Right now my ginger beer is nestled up next to a crockpot of chicken soup on the counter fermenting away. After they’re finished I cap the jars tightly and keep in the fridge. I’ll post about ginger beer soon….

      • Laura says:

        I’ll look forward to your upcoming posts! Thanks!!

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